Announcing the 2015 Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest winners

The Freedom From Religion Foundation congratulates the 11 college students who won this year’s essay competition. FFRF, an educational state/church watchdog that has more than 23,000 members nationwide, has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994 and graduate students since 2010.

Students were asked to write 700 to 900 words on the topic of “Proud to be an atheist: challenging stigma against nonbelievers.”

Winners of the competition are listed below and include the award amount and college or university they are attending.

  • First place: Sara Schwabe, 23, Indiana University ($3,000)
  • Second place: Casira Copes, 20, Rochester Institute of Technology ($2,000)
  • Third place: Julia Upchurch, 22, University of South Carolina ($1,000)
  • Fourth place: Erika Walsh, 19, Ithaca College ($750)
  • Fifth place: Emma Follmer, 20, Virginia Commonwealth University ($500)
  • Sixth place: Sunita Kolareth, 18, University of Missouri-Kansas City ($400)
  • Sixth place: James Lambert, 21, University of Waterloo (Ontario) ($400)

Honorable mentions ($200) each:

  • Chan Sai (Samuel) Hay, 21, De Anza College
  • Martin Cheung, 18, University of Pennsylvania
  • Julianna Bauman, 19, University of Washington
  • Mariesa Robinson, 20, Mercyhurst University

“We truly consider our scholarships for freethinking students to be among FFRF’s most important investments in the future of freethought,” said Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “There are thousands of scholarships for religious students, and hardly any rewarding critical thinking and the use of reason in forming an opinion about religion.”

The winning essays for the college contest will appear in the December issue of Freethought Today. Next to be announced: FFRF’s selection of winners of its graduate student essay competition.

The college contest is named for the late Michael Hakeem, a sociology professor who was an FFRF officer and active atheist known by generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students for fine-tuning their reasoning abilities.

FFRF also thanks Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida for providing a $100 bonus to students who are members of a secular student club or the Secular Student Alliance. The total of $9,250 reflects bonuses.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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